Cape Town – The Proteas have lost four of their last five
Test matches at Kingsmead; the unpalatable thought looms that it might very shortly
become five out of six.
It’s their anti-fortress, if you like, and pure common sense
as things stand suggests that at some time within the next two days this
fragile, increasingly rickety and unsettled outfit will get another reminder of
England only rammed home an advantage some of their own players
and pundits had been too diplomatic to acknowledge already existed after Sunday’s
play as they took a particularly firm hold on day three of the first Test on
The tourists will enter the last two days 261 runs to the
good and boasting as many as seven second-innings wickets in hand, with every
chance that the first two sessions on Tuesday will be primarily about how many
more runs Alastair Cook feels he needs before ringing a declaration bell.
It is hard to see South Africa, their attack badly affected
by injury woes swirling around veteran spearhead Dale Steyn, mustering enough remaining
energy on the disappointingly sluggish surface to rip through the tourists’
lengthy batting order and suddenly be chasing a target within the 330-340 range
that would at least carry a faint glow of hunt-down possibility.
Mind you, there is already a justifiable feeling among
critics that anything north of 300 will be a really demanding ask for Hashim
Amla’s side – fielding a handful of palpably out-of-form frontline customers
with the willow – so England are within touching distance anyway of stretching
their lead to at least that figure.
Morne Morkel has been a beacon of light among the
hard-pressed and understaffed Proteas pace division, and was not helped at all
on the middle day of the contest by seeing as many as three chances put down off
his durable bowling – just another department where the fast-fading world No
1-ranked side are coming up worrisomely short of past standards these days.
One of the beneficiaries was England’s blue-chip batsman Joe
Root, who was on six when AB de Villiers put him down behind the stumps and by
the close had advanced to a calm, mostly accomplished 60.
Speaking of light, there was more of that in the shape of
Dean Elgar, who fought an ongoing, virtually lone battle at the crease for his
country on Monday, and may never again find himself in the position of scoring
118 unbeaten runs in a Test whilst the remainder of his colleagues muster only
a further 96 to the cause between them.
In becoming the sixth South African – and second since unity
after Gary Kirsten in Pakistan in 1997 – to carry his bat through a completed
innings, the diminutive left-hander earned rich praise from, among others,
another stoical crease-occupier in Mike Atherton, the former England captain
guesting as a SuperSport commentator.
Atherton described Elgar as “compact and composed” and
displaying a “fighting attitude”.
He added: “He’s been top-class. They tell me he’s from
Welkom and that they breed them tough there ... is that right?”
Compatriot Kepler Wessels, meanwhile, said he was “very
pleased for (Elgar); a real scrapper ... he has absolutely cemented himself at
the top of the order”.
Those would have been reassuring words to a great many
distressed Proteas enthusiasts, who otherwise see only leaks developing at a
fast rate to a once sturdy SA batting hull.
South Africa’s goose isn’t quite cooked yet.
But I may not be alone in sensing that an English chef is
already stirring oil and onions with some sense of eagerness and vigour in a
sizzling pot ...
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